Illiberal Arts: Education of the Baroness

France, 1977. Directed by Sacha Nudamko. Starring Brigitte LaHaye, Susan DeLoir, Aude LeCoeur, Robert Lourge, Mary De Gris and John Gatto.

I found it!

I have located one of the last unopened DVDs of Education of the Baroness on the internet, and it is mine. (I do not trust downloads from pornography websites. I mean, do you?)baroness front

Education of the Baroness is high in my personal pantheon of early-age porn, right along with a review (with still photos) of Ilse, She-Wolf of the SS that I found in a friend’s relative’s porn stash (and which interested me more than the conventional photos of naked women in the rest of the magazine)1, and an account of a fictional fem-dom slave auction in, if I remember correctly, a Hustler, circa 1980. (And that was an especially sweet, not to mention surprising thing to find in a men’s magazine—a story from a woman’s point of view, a visit to a slave auction, with a dominatrix bringing out man after submissive man onstage to sell, but only after tormenting each in truly delicious ways.)

I encountered Baroness much later, in college, via someone down the hall at the dorm my freshman year at university. He had a small library of porn on VHS, and make no mistake, Education of the Baroness is porn. Sweet, awful, ridiculous, awesome porn. Hardly the first porn video I’d seen at that time, but the only one from that era that has stuck in my mind. And I am glad to report that it is still every bit as ridiculous and awesome as I have remembered it.

Originally titled Parties Fines, this film was made in France, in 1977, when porn movies had actual plots. It is dubbed, with no subtitle option, digitized directly from the VHS.

I’m no expert in the chronology of pornographic technology in Europe, but in the U.S. there was a brief interval in the mid-1970’s when porn had gained some slight degree of respectability, or at least available budgets, before the advent of cheap video technology took over, a change from which it has not recovered. In fact it has since degraded to such recent cultural products as 101 Sloppy Facials, which has not only done away with all “story”, but with all actual sex; just a 90-minute montage of money shots … which I will admit to watching, merely to see how it ended.2

This film could not be made today, nor in the United States at the time. Ostensibly a comedy, it is constructed of coerced (but not unwanted) sex, outdated humor, and class resentment. And also accordion music, which, back in the dorm, would waft pleasantly from whichever room it happened to be playing on any given night. I will forget the cheesy jokes and accordion music, for now, and discuss the two things that make the movie interesting: the coercive sex and class commentary, which actually go together.

The story is a fairly complex one for such a piece of hardcore comedy-pornography. Set in the 1920’s, the Baron Pierre (Peter) DuPont and his wife Charlotte (Solange, in the original French), live bored, listless lives in their luxurious apartment, equipped with all the amenities that their wealth and lower aristocratic rank provide—a sassy, sex-starved maid and cook named Alice, and a big beautiful Rolls Royce, chauffeured by their aggressive driver, Hector.

But it turns out that while they reside together, they actually lead very separate lives. While the Baroness reclines on furs, the monocled Peter announces that he will be out for the evening on business. Bored, Charlotte bosses Alice around for no good reason, just to be able to do so. She bathes, masturbates in the tub (magnificently). Hint: frustration!

We follow the Baron. Not long into their drive, he orders his chauffeur to pull over into a grove of trees. They get out and strip, leading us to think there will be a man-on-man scene; but no, they are merely switching clothes and stations, the Baron donning the chauffeur’s uniform. Seems his kick is to “lower” himself, to pretend to serve. He drives, and they encounter a stranded woman. The chauffeur, now in the back of the car, offers her a lift. This being a porn movie, they have sudden, inexplicable sex as the Baron watches in the mirror; the woman also has an inexplicable American Southern accent—“Stick it right up my ay-ass!”. Once through with her, she is tossed out of the car, cursing and disheveled at the side of the road.

Back at the residence, Alice the maid/cook is grinding coffee in the kitchen with an old-fashioned crank-driven machine, holding it tightly between her spread legs, grinding herself against its vibrations: frustration. There is a knock at the back door, and it is the nearly blind, clown-like Jean, who refers to Alice as his sister, but explains that she is not really so (thankfully, avoiding many incestuous scenes), though he is very shy and proper about her. He has brought his friend and boss, the considerably more suave Mr. Finch, a gangster, cad, and opportunist, who needs a place to hide out while a large group of other gangsters have come to town to search for him. She serves them dinner in the kitchen; unlikely sex occurs.

The Baroness is upset by the disturbance, and tells the men to leave and Alice to prepare to pack her bags as well; she has been told “no visitors” before. But Mr. Finch, who has no respect for rules nor law nor social class, takes the situation—and the Baroness—in hand. He announces that he will be staying, and that Charlotte and Alice will switch both clothing and places. Charlotte will do the serving. Since Alice was about to be fired anyway, discarded, she is quite amused about this arrangement.

Charlotte is led into the parlor and ordered to strip, and as Jean plays accordion there is a very strange, forceful, spinning dance sequence between Mr. Finch and Charlotte (there are some very odd uses of camera angles, in this film). As Jean continues to play, Mr. Finch takes her to the dining table, and, well, pretty much rapes her.

But of course, the central attractor of this film is Charlotte’s repressed desires. Unable to express them, trapped in a distant marriage, or even to merely admit them, because of her reputable station, she is a bundle of barely-concealed lust. Mr. Finch has picked up on this, in their initial conversation and dance—the push/pull, resistance/yearning—and while she shouts “No!” as he inserts his cock into her while Alice pins her on her back by the wrists, we can all tell she doesn’t really mean it.

Problematic? Well of course, in real life. But this is porn. Bad, ridiculous porn, and above all, fiction. As he fucks her, spread wide and moaning, we can see that Charlotte’s real resistance isn’t against Mr. Finch, but in admitting that she really, really likes this.

“Alice, take a good look at your Madame. She comes, just like everybody else,” Mr. Finch tells Alice. “Yes. Harder. No!” Charlotte says; comes. Mr. Finch also announces, “Look at the bitch. The leisure class, up the ass!”, but more on that later. (It should be noted that he is not doing her up the ass.) He pulls out and comes after she does, onto her pubic hair. Fair warning, by the way: there is a goodly amount of ‘70’s hairiness in this movie. I’m certainly not one to demand that everything be shaved, but a little grooming now than then wouldn’t have hurt back then, would it? And what was it about the advent of the Reagan/Thatcher era that heralded genital tidiness?

As Charlotte puts her bra back on (so wonderfully skimpy—in my mind, for decades now, when I read “skimpy bra” in any erotic story, this is the Platonic Ideal I picture), she shouts at Mr. Finch’s rudeness, that he has no right to break in and—but he slaps her down, and she is punished. education-of-the-baroness The next step in her education: “No more protest,” Jean says as he resumes his accordion playing. She is bent over the desk in the parlor, and is now fucked up the ass while Alice again holds her wrists. We see by her face that it is painful at first, but once again, her mood changes.

Interspersed with all this action at the residence, the Baron has arrived at a large house, knocks on the door, and asks to be let in. The beautiful woman who answers demands more respect than that, and once he begs, she lets him in. This is Melanie, the Baron’s very attractive dominatrix. The scenes between them alternate with and provide a counterpoint to the main story back home, but are really not worth detailing here. The episodes are brief, and get more and more degrading, which thrills the Baron. It should be noted that the topless Melanie, swinging a fascinating short little whip against the Baron’s backside, is a fine thing to behold. But while Charlotte is having very mixed feelings about her debasement, her fall from aristocratic respect, the Baron is actively seeking it out.

Charlotte’s humiliations continue. Mr. Finch orders her to clean the parlor with a feather duster, then his cock with her tongue. When Alice is initially reluctant to force her to cook dinner, Mr. Finch tells her “You must remember, refusing to be a slave can change the world”, and Alice embraces her change in status. While Charlotte is kept mostly naked, Alice dons her expensive dress, although she’s naked pretty much most of the time, as well. One note—while the women’s bodies are all very beautiful, we don’t know about the men’s—because we only see the Baron’s, usually on all fours, and never Mr. Finch or Jean’s, other than their glistening, hard cocks jutting up from their open fly. They remain dressed throughout the entire film, while the two women rarely are.

Charlotte is “given” to the almost blind Jean, who must find her to enjoy her; the little chase scene around the parlor is one of the more surreal point-of-view camera exercises in this film, or any other for that matter. The dialogue sometimes drifts toward surrealism, as well: “You know, I’m like a balloon up in the air—in the stratosphere, drifting to the stars,” Jean exclaims, as Charlotte is forced to suck his cock, Alice rhythmically pushing her head down onto it before joining her.

Charlotte also has a variety of objects inserted into her various orifices—the kidneys that she had to cook but allowed to get cold; the huge wooden dildo that she didn’t know Alice knew about; various digits; both men’s cocks. But she becomes more vocal, more enthused about these items, these occurrences, as the evening progresses.

She is learning to like her degradation. Is this her education? The rich being brought down a few notches into the real world?

We are now in an era of erotica that is heavily reliant on class distinctions. But far from critiques, they mostly celebrate the wealthy. The fantasy of being swept away by a billionaire is now a taken-for-granted trope, popularized by the massive success of Fifty Shades and since copied, copied, and copied by new writers in their self-published creations on Amazon.

Not that this is really new—those men who ran Roissy weren’t exactly paupers, now, were they? They couldn’t be, to maintain a place like that, and keep it a secret. Consider Laura Antoniou’s Marketplace, or my favorites, Molly Weatherfield’s Carrie novels, or many, many lesser works of BDSM fiction that take place on private islands, isolated mansions or castles. It goes clear back to Sade, at least. Wealth ensures secrecy, efficiency in gathering and maintaining stable-fuls of slaves, or enticing just one into a more (or less) romantic subservience.

I even indulge this trope myself, in my upcoming Villa collection of stories, but I’m partially using mine to comment on the actuality of what the returning ascendance of the super-wealthy means—dominance not just in the bedroom and playroom, but in the real world as well. Cheap labor, more and more privileges for themselves as they pass on the costs to the rest of us.

The art and the heart of BDSM fiction is to eroticize dominance and subjugation, and in eroticizing the control that wealth affords, we writers of the genre have to make choices in how to do so. To glamorize that wealth is in my opinion to condone it, a symptom of the hoodwinked times we live in. In my own economic-dependent stories, using the fantastical world of wealthy sex-slave owners as a backdrop, there is a certain fatalism, a futility that is subtly pointed out, that the rich will always win, and you will always lose. Eroticizing that sad fact while maintaining the hotness is the challenge of those stories.

Does Education really contain much in the way of class commentary? First of all, we should not expect much of any kind of deep analysis from this silly film. But there are far more comments on class and wealth in this porn movie—and this is outright porn—than you will find in any other, I think.

But how critical is it? While Mr. Finch does indeed show his disdain for the ruling classes, both verbally and sexually, when Alice tells Charlotte, as she makes her put on the serving apron, “You come the same as I do—the only difference is, I enjoy it, you are ashamed”, she isn’t so much criticizing the extreme upper class’s exploitation of everyone else so much as the hypocritical mannerisms of the petit bourgeois. The falseness of upper middle-class propriety is what bothers Alice, if not Mr. Finch: pretending to be above our base desires.

And this is what the Baroness’s education is all about: she does not so much “learn her place” as learn to accept her own desire. She is liberated! This is not a miniature reenactment of the French Revolution. She “wins”, once her ordeal is over. But then, the tantalizing English title was never a translation from the French. The film ends with an incredibly cheesy montage of Charlotte getting fucked in just about every position by Mr. Finch, with her eager face superimposed over the imagery and her inner monologue playing over it all. (I so wish I could hear this part in the original French; the role of Charlotte is the weakest link in the voiceover cast, unfortunately.) We hear her mentally reciting a list, to herself, of everything she likes having done to her, everything she would like to be allowed to do. It’s a filthy, explicit list, though pretty vanilla, especially compared to her husband’s activities. But we get the feeling, because so many of those filthy things involve Alice, that her life will be quite different from here on out.

So “education” does not equal comeuppance, in the end. It is a Happily Ever After movie—everyone is satisfied, a new course is plotted for the Baroness and her haughty maid. Of course Mr. Finch will leave and continue doing quite well with whatever and whomever he meets, his jester Jean at his side. And Charlotte’s husband too, who was already finding satisfaction. Will this single night’s transformations improve their marriage, as well? Who knows. She didn’t mention him once in her fanciful List of Filthy Things to Do, though they did at least smile at each other—quite genuinely—when he returns home and they lounge together in the parlor, nearly wordless.

We’ll never really know.
1. It would be over a decade before I saw the actual film, accidentally running across it in a video store. I watched it; was repulsed and aroused at the same time. Confused by this reaction, I returned the video (after watching it again). I also gave a couple of its sequels a shot, but they were of increasingly inferior quality, if you can imagine that.

I did like it, despite myself. (See my review of the film Maleficarum.) But the reality of the film never approached the idea of the film, that had been rolling around in my head since I was twelve or so years old. I haven’t watched the video since, but I did track down the still shots that accompanied that review. I’m looking at them now.

2. Disappointingly. I had hopes for an almost abstract work of art, a “meta-porn” conceptual masterpiece. If the film consists entirely of nothing but come shots, with anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes of preliminary fucking/sucking/jerking off, couldn’t these segments be stitched together into an overall form that approximates the very sex act that the snippets themselves have done away with?

Begin with the slower-paced, lower-energy footage—some of the women feign enthusiasm better than others, and some offer far more help in getting the man to orgasm than their more passive compatriots. So begin with the longer, slower segments, then shift to faster, tenser ones—build up the tension in the totality of the film itself. Then perhaps back off a bit, or alternate the levels of intensity and speed; build a rhythm. And finally, as the end approaches, really speed things up: the most enthused women, the most vocal men (we rarely see their faces), the most prodigious amounts of semen, all shown in increasingly short, fast, frantic snippets. End with more come shots, of course, but slower, more relaxed ones, emphasizing the afterplay—the lingering shots of women who pretend to luxuriate in their newfound gooeyness the longest. This had the potential to be a work of genius, using the very building blocks that this video is made of to create one long, meta-facial fuck.

But alas, no.

It was just a randomly stitched-together sequence of come shots on pretty faces. Sloppy indeed.

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